AT this point of a new NFL season all 32 teams will have at least some belief that they’re capable of playing this year’s Super Bowl. As naive as it may be, there’s no harm in that sense of false optimism this early into a campaign, but even before we factor in the ever-changing landscape that COVID has caused, we all know there are a select few who can be deemed as real contenders. Splitting those legitimate Lombardi threats from the fake impersonators may be viewed as a tall task during the early stages of the 2020 season, but it can still be done.
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Better Luck Next Year
WHILE it really is anyone’s game at this point there are some teams that realistically we can rule out of Super Bowl equations. Some of these squads could still shock the world and earn an unlikely playoff berth, but contending for the ultimate prize in 2020 is one step too far for these 10 franchises.
Washington Redskins – A new era begins in DC
Detroit Lions – A healthy Stafford could surprise everyone
Cincinnati Bengals – They’ll start to contend if Burrow and Co deliver
Jacksonville Jaguars – Yikes, where do we start?!
New York Jets – What we get from Sam Darnold in 2020 is anyone’s guess
Carolina Panthers – Let’s see what Matt Rhule can build
New York Giants – Do we really believe in Daniel Jones?
Miami Dolphins – All aboard the Tua Train!
Las Vegas Raiders – Derek Carr’s on the clock
Denver Broncos – The rebuild is taking shape, time to win some games
On the Bubble
Los Angeles Chargers
AFTER flirting with putting Los Angeles in the above category, I decided they make the cut for postseason contention. Asking that of either Tyrod Taylor or Justin Herbert is a lot, but their supporting cast gives even the paltry Chargers fanbase hope. Austin Ekeler can no longer be considered as Christian McCafferey lite, Keenan Allen AND Mike Williams produced 1,000-yard seasons in 2019 and their defense is as talented as any top to bottom. L.A. has most of the right pieces, I just can’t see them coming together.
SNAGGING DeAndre Hopkins from Houston alters the ceiling of this Cardinals squad leaving them in an ominous position. Larry Fitzgerald might not be around forever, but Hopkins will join forces with reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Kyler Murray to hopefully form a dynamic one-two tandem. Add versatile defensive rookie Isaiah Simmons to the other side of the ball and Arizona could be primed to make some noise.
DeAndre Hopkins thinks he's the best wide receiver in the #NFL. Is he spitting the truth? #RiseUpRedSea
— SportsbyFry (@sportsbyfry) June 1, 2020
I still can’t get behind Josh Allen’s arm and that leaves me sceptical over the Bills’ legitimacy as title threats. Trading for Stefon Diggs was a necessary move, providing Allen with a stable WR1 in their ever-evolving offense. Buffalo’s defense has been their calling card for at least a few seasons and they’ll look to stay dominant on that side of the ball with the AFC East now there’s for the taking.
I’M not here for the ‘make or break’ talk this season for Cleveland, but they are running out of excuses. Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham were meant to link up as a force in 2019 and instead, the Browns spluttered to a 6-10 record. Kevin Stefanski will become the third coach of the team in the last three seasons when play does get underway and Cleveland will need to give him a much longer leash if they want results.
IN Russ we trust. As long as Wilson is under center than all will be right in the world, with Seattle making the playoffs in seven of his eight seasons as a Seahawk. A 9-6 postseason record including a Super Bowl XLVIII win looks good on paper, but the franchise has just two playoff W’s in the last four seasons, leaving acceptable doubt over their Super Bowl aspirations.
Green Bay Packers
PREPARE to see Aaron Rodgers come out breathing fire this season! The big question on everyone’s mind is who will feature in the passing game aside from Davante Adams? Green Bay did little to address their need for a more competent receiving room outside of signing Devin Funchess and after falling one game short of the Super Bowl last season, there are no guarantees they’ll climb as high this year.
Image from tampabay.com
FOLLOWING another perplexing series of Bill O’Brien moves, Houston’s playoff place is as tedious as ever. Four of the last five seasons have ended with an AFC South title and yet, the Texans haven’t made the most of their postseason frequency. With the rest of the division is improving around them, this could be the season Houston is knocked off their perch, but even if they survive, the Texans can’t afford to start slipping – especially with Deshaun Watson’s contract expiring in 2021.
New England Patriots
BEFORE too long Bill Belichick will have another championship calibre team in New England, but the 2020 Pats aren’t one such unit. I feel wrong going against Belichick this early into post-Brady-era, but I can’t get behind their new quarterback plan – trusting an unproven sophomore with 14 career passing yards to his name and a 34-year old perennial back-up who owns a 16-22 record. Unless they add another difference-maker, like veteran free agent Cam Newton then I won’t be expecting greatness from the Patriots this time around.
UNCERTAINTY under center still leaves Chicago in a precarious position entering the new season, with Mitchell Trubisky proving so far he isn’t the long-term answer for the Bears. A move for former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles could offer stability at QB and providing the team with at least average offensive production while their dominant defense wreaks havoc. If both those things occur the Bears will be hard to stop, but there are still some wrinkles that need to be ironed out before I view them as genuine contenders.
Los Angeles Rams
AFTER making it all the way to Super Bowl LIII, Sean McVay’s Rams didn’t exactly carry momentum over to the next season. Entering the year as the talk of the town, L.A. went 9-7 and was forced to miss postseason action having undergone significant personnel changes in the offseason in an effort to rectify their slide. With an inconsistent offensive line set to make Jared Goff’s life even harder, I can only see the Rams trending down.
EVEN if Philip Rivers gets through this season can we really see him playing for the Colts in 2021? At 38 years old, it’s fair to say that Rivers’ prime is behind him, leaving Indianapolis somewhat all in on the aging QB. Throughout the rest of the Colts’ roster there is a lot to like, boasting capable pass-catchers and arguably the best O-line in the NFL. Still, as the franchise continues to try and create a winner following Andrew Luck’s shock retirement 12 months earlier, I’m not sure if I believe in Rivers as much as Indianapolis does.
CONSECUTIVE 7-9 seasons from Atlanta doesn’t instil their faithful with a lot of confidence of a potential return to the postseason. That being said, the Falcons seem poised to roll out a starting-11 of all first-round picks on offense following their moves for RB Todd Gurley and TE Hayden Hurst. Matt Ryan wasn’t exactly lacking in weapons and after overhauling their defense another 7-9 or similar season could be on the cards for the Falcons.
THERE were always going to be some line ball decisions in this article with the Eagles owning a case for both camps. Addressing their need for a corner in Darius Slay and adding some quality at receiver through Jalen Reagor and Marquise Goodwin leaves Philadelphia in good stead, but will it be enough? The Cowboys will be out to make life tough for the Eagles in the NFC East battle and they’ll need 16 games again from Carson Wentz if they’re going to make their season a worthwhile one.
IF you want my Steelers stock it’s all yours. Ben Roethlisberger going down last season exposed the glaring need for a succession plan in Pittsburgh, even though they were technically a winning team with Mason Rudolph and Devlin ‘Duck’ Hodges combing to go 8-6. No matter who they start at quarterback, Pittsburgh will be forced to compete with a dominant Ravens squad looking to repeat as division champs, while also battling the up and coming squads in Cincinnati and Cleveland. It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better for the Steelers.
San Fransisco 49ers
LAST season’s NFC champs won’t be going anywhere in 2020 – once again primed for a run at the Lombardi trophy. Some have doubts over Jimmy Garoppolo’s ability to deliver football’s ultimate prize, but after falling one win short last year, I’m still holding out faith. Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas and the newly-extended Arik Armstead welcome Javon Kinlaw to their already impressive D-line and if Jimmy G takes another step in his development there’s no reason San Fran can’t go one better and claim the franchises 6th title this year.
New Orleans Saints
IN the eyes of many the New Orleans Saints are right at the top of the Super Bowl favourites list, eager to break their streak of heartbreaking playoff exits. For three straight years, NOLA has crashed out of the postseason in dramatic fashion and with Drew Brees nearing the end of his playing days the Saints are running out of time to capitalist on their Super Bowl window. Will this be the season they finally break through to the big dance?
Image from yardbarker.com
OUTSIDE of the reigning champs (more from them soon), the Baltimore Ravens are everyone’s favourite to come out the AFC. Buoyed by the second-ever unanimous MVP in league history, Baltimore’s smash-mouth, heavy run style has them set up well for continued success in 2020. There are some doubts over Lamar Jackson’s ability to deliver when the lights are shining brightest, however, with such a small sample size to go off, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jackson used this season as another chance to prove his naysayers wrong.
RYAN Tannehill and Derrick Henry helped the Titans go on an unprecedented run through the postseason a year ago – now the tough part comes. Proving that last season was no fluke will at the top of the wishlist in Tennessee and the uncertainty in the rest of the division leaves the AFC South title well and truly up for grabs. Tannehill chalked up a 9-4 record once he cemented himself as the Titans’ starter over Marcus Mariota and all the tools are in place for him to keep building on their brief success.
FORMER head coach Jason Garrett was fine in Dallas, but the arrival of Mike McCarthy could be the final piece to a championship puzzle. Garrett won a decent chunk of games in his 10 seasons, but a 0-3 record in the divisional round of the playoffs highlighted his inability to get the Cowboys over the hump. They are loaded with star power across almost every line with Amari Cooper, DeMarcus Lawrence, Ezekiel Elliott, Leighton Vander Esch and of course, quarterback Dak Prescott just a few of Dallas’ top-tier talents out to make McCarthy’s first year at the helm a successful one.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
EVERY bit of my being wanted to pick against the Buccaneers, but one could argue that Tampa Bay is now the proud owner of the best on-paper offense in the entire NFL. Obviously, the biggest change the franchise underwent saw six-time Super Bowl champ Tom Brady join the fray, coaxing his favourite red-zone target Rob Gronkowski out of retirement to join him. Given the rest of the firepower on the Bucs’ offense even a 42-year-old starting QB should be able to hit his receivers with enough accurate passes to put up a winning score.
Kansas City Cheifs
LET’S not spend too long here with the current Super Bowl champions set to aggressively protect their crown. Breaking through for their first triumph in 50 years was a fitting reward for a Kansas City team that has had its way with the league in recent years. Quarterbacking messiah Patrick Mahomes now owns a 28-8 record as the Chiefs’ starter, already adding a ring, MVP award and Super Bowl MVP to his resume in just three seasons. His transcendent play leaves Kansas City in a position to be the first team in the last 15 years to repeat as champs.
SIX years of Mike Zimmer has led to yo-yo seasons from the Vikings, skipping the playoffs only to make the cut the next campaign. If the pattern continues in 2020, Minnesota will once again miss out on postseason action leaving the franchise in an awkward position moving forwards. Their star running back in Dalvin Cook will once again be an integral part of the offense, but the buck starts and stops with their uncertain QB in Kirk Cousins. If he’s struggling then expect Minnesota to follow suit, but if Cousins is firing then there’s no reason why this unit can’t go all the way – mark my words.
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